America's Leaning Tower of PISA

Posted on June 09, 2005
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U.S. students fall below the international average of 29 industrialized countries in both math literacy and problem solving, according to a new National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) report to Congress. The NCES finds that U.S. 15-year-olds had an average math literacy score of 483 compared to the international average of 500, based on data from the 2003 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) that measures how prepared students are to enter the workforce.

The good news is a new analysis by Ludger Woessmann of Germany's Ifo Institute for Economic Research reveals an effective way to improve student performance. Woessmann finds that "across all countries," students in privately managed schools score 16 to 20 PISA test score points higher than students in publicly managed schools, even after controlling for factors including a country's development level, student spending, and family background. 

That 20-point gain would put U.S. students above the international average in math literacy. In Arizona, comparable gains could result in more students passing AIMS without having to lower passing cutoff scores.

So what can Arizona policymakers do to help students stand tall? Expand Arizona's education marketplace through privately managed charter schools, scholarship tax credits, and education vouchers.

Key Links:
-NCES report: The Condition of Education 2005
-Woessmann analysis: "Evidence of the effects of Choice and Accountability in International Student Achievement Tests," in What America Can Learn from School Choice in Other Countries
-Goldwater Institute report: Survey of Arizona Private Schools: Tuition, Testing and Curricula

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